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Spirit Soaring Through Words
An Interview with Vanessa Griggs

by Pam Kingsbury



Vanessa Davis Griggs, who lives in Birmingham, is establishing a national reputation in the Christian fiction genre. Her first novel, Promises Beyond Jordan, set in Birmingham and Atlanta, was a finalist in for the Black Writers Alliance 2002 Gold Pen Awards.  Her work has been praised for blending elements from traditional African-American writing as well as the Christian and romance genres. 

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? 

Writing for me was like breathing--something I just began to do.  I don’t recall precisely when I began to write, but I do remember one very specific incident.  I was in the sixth grade, we had just integrated--about six months prior--to Pinson Elementary. 

My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Margaret Campbell, came to me and said, “I want you to put on one of your plays for the school.” 

Apparently I’d done something that had revealed my talent in only a few months in her class.  So I ended up writing, producing, and directing a Christmas play.  This definitely impacted me in a positive way.  I’ve always written plays, but it wasn’t until my late teens and early twenties that I began penning more short stories and novels.  In December of 1996 (after 18 years with BellSouth), I left to pursue a full-time writing career.  It’s been almost six years, and I’m proud to say—I’m still here.  Writing and loving every minute of it! 

What were your writing influences? 

Surprisingly, I am a student of more nonfiction than fiction.  I love motivational and “how-to” books.  One book of fiction that did impact me toward discovering what I desired to accomplish when others read my work, was Ernest J. Gaines’s novel The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.  At the time, I believed it to be a true story.  It taught me so much about a history I knew little of and it felt real when I read it, that I said, “This is what I want to do.”  To write where people would not only be entertained but possibly learn something in the process.....

My Christian influence comes from my parental upbringing and the essence of who I truly am.  For me, it’s totally a spiritual thing.  I loved (and still do) to read the Bible.  Now if you want to talk about a book brimming with drama, real life type of situations, romance (have you read the book of Solomon lately? Wow!), betrayal, family, friends, and the will of people, the Bible has it all.

I do read a lot of fiction because I believe one should be a student of the genre in which you wish to write.  The African-American or Black as many in my generation still tend to say, is part of who I am and what I know.  And all Black experiences are not the same.  I think it's important to hear different voices and different situations whenever and wherever possible.  This is how we learn and grow our own world bigger.

What do you think of the African-American writing groups popping up all over the state and the region? 

Not only are there African-American writing groups, but reading groups as well.  It’s the economics of supply and demand.     

For far too long, the “powers that be” were of the opinion that “Black folk” didn’t read.  And those who did were only interested in the historical accounts of certain eras.  The idea that African-Americans would read a book about love, contemporary ups and downs, life in the real world with real situations, or positive black males was often dismissed as uneconomical.  Many Black authors, frustrated with rejection from major to minor publishing houses, decided to go the self-published route. 

Self-publishing isn’t anything new (Ben Franklin published his own works).  But it has gained tremendous respect in the past years as authors such as James Redfield, Richard Paul Evans (who self-published The Christmas Box) have reportedly garnered advances as high as $4.2 million dollars having proven the worth of their work.  Originally self-published African-Americans authors E. Lynn Harris, Kimberly Lawson Roby, Anita Richmond Bunkley, and Zane (to name a few) have not only made a name for themselves, but confirmed there was a market grossly being under-served.  Bringing together the writers and readers within the Black community geared toward sharing knowledge have opened doors for writing and reading groups alike, encouraging events like the annual "Words Escape Me Summit" held the second weekend in February in Birmingham, Alabama.  An event that has been so successful in getting the word out about new and seasoned authors and their books as well as allowing readers up close and personal access to the process of how various authors have “made it”; New York is now taking notice.  They see that Alabama should no longer be overlooked when sending their various authors on tour (which in the past usually ventured no farther than Atlanta).  Daily, I hear from people of all colors who have a book they’re longing to see published.  Writing groups are needed to service this growing demand of would-be-authors. 

What has the greatest pleasure been for you in being an author? 

When I hear how a book I’ve written has impacted someone’s life.  To know I've made a positive difference outside of myself.     

So many people have told me they weren’t readers before but having read something I wrote, but now they have become hungry for more books to read.  To have Black men to tell me how much they enjoyed Promises Beyond Jordan and how it has turned them on (or back on) to reading.  To know that my work is crossing racial boundaries because of its universal appeal.  When people tell me they could actually see it as they read the words...that the book “reads like a movie,” it warms my heart.  It is these times I am able to see that my gift is doing a work outside of me.  Then, to get to meet and/or correspond with people I otherwise might never have met--all of this makes what I do worth it. 

You're a speaker as well as an author -- discuss your dual careers. 

I love speaking and writing!  Both make use of the power of words.  I remember my father asking me when I was younger (several times in fact), did I ever stop talking.  I think he realizes now, I was merely practicing for my purpose on earth.  To be able to use the power of words to encourage and inspire is indeed an awesome privilege and an honor.  Some people work; what I do is merely a joy.  When I write, my goal is to keep what I write real.    

I want the reader to be able to say, “Yeah--now that’s believable.”  When I speak, my focus is on how I might best bless those who are giving their time (which I believe is a valuable thing to part with) by coming to hear what I have to say.  I don’t believe in doing something just for the sake of doing it.  And when I leave this world, I want to be able to say: Oh yes—I lived.  I honest and truly lived!  My life made a difference to someone else.  I lived and loved well; and yes-- I...was...loved! Somewhere...somehow...I was loved.

Visit the Web Site of Vanessa Davis Griggs at  

Promises Beyond Jordan
by Vanessa Davis Griggs
FreeToSoar Publications, 2001
ISBN: 0-9673003-2-0

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© 2003, Pam Kingsbury, All Rights Reserved